A Note on Campus Totalitarians
A movement is taking over America’s colleges and universities that rejects classical norms of reason, logic, and scholarship. This anti-intellectual trend is a road to totalitarianism.
What now passes for erudition in many liberal arts departments would not qualify as good scholarship using the proven tests of critical thinking. Worse, dissent is being shouted down, not debated. And many administrators support this trend making it, in effect, de facto campus policy.
This trend has all the hallmarks of societies that have gone totalitarian.
The first wave is always an assault on intellectuals and reason. Whether their shirts were black, brown, or red, academic dissent was shouted down, dissenters were persecuted, and reason was discarded. Many historians have chronicled the similarities of these movements: Friedrich von Hayek’s Road To Serfdom; William Shirer’s Rise And Fall of the Third Reich; Sean McMeekin’s The Russian Revolution; Ayn Rand’s semi-autobiographical novel about the rise of the Bolsheviks in We The Living.
These totalitarian regimes were almost all collectivist whereby the government dictated the economy and eventually society in order to achieve goals they believed were just and noble. You can call them socialists, or communists, or fascists, but really, they all operated similarly. Today in America it is “social justice” which is just another word for coercive state control over the individual. But, as Friedrich von Hayek said, their desires outstrip their understanding: history has shown that this path will end in tragedy, not utopia.
What set me off on this critique of contemporary ideology was Professor Nancy MacLean whose book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America has been praised in Progressive circles. In it she claims that James Buchanan, a distinguished Nobel prize winner in economics, was at the intellectual forefront of a dark libertarian movement to support segregation and to protect the rights, position, and capital of rich white folks. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded her $50,400 to write the book.
As an expert on the philosophy and history of the libertarian movement, I can assure you that her premise is absurd. James Buchanan was a fine scholar with a long record of excellent scholarship. Her scholarship on the other hand has been eviscerated by many academics as consisting of lies, innuendo, exaggeration, misquotes, unsubstantiated citations, and taking things out of context. They have challenged her to refute their very specific criticisms, but she doesn’t respond other than to make personal attacks on her critics. The fact that she doesn’t understand economics (her admission) would lead one to question her ability to criticize a Nobel-awarded economist.
Yet her book was praised by Progressive media such as the New York Times, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Oprah Magazine, NPR, and Slate. Many enthusiastic reviewers cited her extensive list of citations as evidence of her scholarship. The point about MacLean, an outspoken Progressive, is that she formed a conclusion and then tried to fit facts to support it. That is not scholarship. One prominent critic called the book “speculative historical fiction.” Her premise is that libertarians wish to impose a draconian regime on America to preserve “capital” and position of the wealthy. Anyone with a smattering of knowledge about libertarianism would know that control over others is a very unlibertarian thing to do. Yet Progressives love her. MacLean is emblematic of the trend in academia where political ends trump scholarship.
Her latest response to critics is to accuse libertarians of being autistic. “It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this [libertarian] cause seem to be on the autism spectrum. You know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others and who have difficult human relationships sometimes.”
This quote should give you some idea about her shallow scholarship. That she would be lionized by the Left reveals their anti-intellectualism and groupthink mind set, which has been characterized as symptomatic of authoritarian personalities.
Which leads me to my next point about the anti-intellectual response on campuses to critics of various theories that are now the rage in academia (Multiculturalism/Critical Theory (Neo-Marxism)/Postmodernism/Post-structuralism). If you disagree with and dissent from these epistemologically-challenged theories, you will be punished. You will be publicly condemned, threatened, and ostracized. But, while you will be shouted down, you won’t be challenged on the merit of your ideas. There is no debate because they know their ideas won’t stand up to rational analysis and criticism.
Law professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania was on the receiving end of this because she wrote an op-ed piece supporting bourgeois ideals. The reaction among faculty and students was overwhelming. She was accused of hate speech and being a racist. One of her deans asked her to cease teaching and take a leave of absence. 33 colleagues signed an open letter condemning her. Yet none of them addressed her ideas to explain the error of her ways. As she said: “Hurling such labels doesn’t enlighten, inform, edify or educate. Indeed, it undermines these goals by discouraging or stifling dissent.”
Multiculturalism and Critical Theory are now the driving forces behind rising campus intolerance to dissenting ideas and thus, free speech. Words, meanings, reason, and motives are ignored. Speech is to be used as a weapon to further Progressive political goals and to subvert classical liberal concepts such as tolerance, free speech, individualism, reason, and equality under the law. Dissent from Progressive orthodoxy is now “racist hate speech”, a vestige of (white) privilege, and is an act of violence against protected (“oppressed”) groups. The meanings of words are to be manipulated to serve Progressive political goals. Protected groups, all advocates of social justice, are thus “liberated” from the bonds of tolerance and free speech. Intolerance to the speech of dissenters (often violent) is justified to achieve political goals. Any means to an end.
The result is the rise of intolerance and groupthink in academia, which, of all places is supposed to be a bastion of free speech where ideas can be debated and students can learn to think. But, that is not so. Campus free speech is dying.
This is all calculated. These social justice warriors are using these philosophies to achieve Progressive goals. It’s all about politics and their quest for power. Truth, justice, reason, tolerance, and scholarship be damned.
We need to shine light on these trends. We need to expose them for what they are: a proto-totalitarian vanguard. By rejecting free speech and the rigors of scholarship, they chip away at the ideas and ideals that have delivered the greatest advances in health, wealth, and well-being in human history. History has shown that these movements do not end well.
This article originally appeared at An Independent Mind.